Monster Asteroid Will Graze Earth Just Before Christmas

Monday, 27 November 2017 - 1:57PM
Earth
Monday, 27 November 2017 - 1:57PM
Monster Asteroid Will Graze Earth Just Before Christmas
Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons
This isn't a drill: A "potentially hazardous" three-mile-wide asteroid will graze Earth just before Christmas.
 
Known as 3200 Phaethon, the asteroid scheduled to pass by Earth on December 16, 2017 is the third largest near-Earth asteroid ever discovered and is classified as "Potentially Hazardous," but it probably won't require the help of Bruce Willis and Aerosmith song in order to avert disaster.

It's swinging by at a distance of 0.069 au, or approximately 6.4 million miles. In other words, this isn't looking like an inbound catastrophe.
 
However, while there's no evident danger, NASA plans to make radar observations and obtain high-resolution images, pictures so clear it's anticipated that the new photo record could lead to a detailed 3D model.
 
If you take NASA's word, while we most likely have nothing to worry about, you'd be forgiven for getting worried when hearing news of an impending asteroid flying by Earth. The name alone is pretty intimidating. 

Taken from Greek mythology, Phaethon is son of sun god Helios. As the story goes, young Phaethon took his dad's chariot (the Sun) for a ride, during which he caused serious heat damage to the Earth and earned a punishing thunderbolt from Zeus. Teens, amiright?

The asteroid Phaethon may not be on a direct collision course with Earth, but it is widely believed to be the source of the Geminids meteor stream, an especially interesting tidbit. Comets are usually the parent bodies of meteor streams—which means the asteroid could actually be an inactive comet nucleus, or a comet. Needless to say, NASA will be watching and studying any potential for an impact on Earth.

This might sound like a once-in-a-lifetime event, but this isn't the first time that 3200 Phaethon has come close to Earth. In fact, it loops by the Sun every 1.4 years.

A 2010 observation
recorded an increase of brightness as it neared the sun, potentially caused by a cloud of dust around the asteroid. Other observations have noted the presence of a small, comet-like tail of dust, leading UCLA researchers David Jewitt and Jing Li to refer to Phaethon as a "rock comet" in their 2010 paper "Activity in Geminid Parent (3200) Phaethon."

 

Phaethon is predicted to be bright enough to spot with small telescopes at sites with dark skies, in the hands of experienced observers. For those with less experience, just watch the documentary
 
Science
Space
Earth
Monster Asteroid Will Graze Earth Just Before Christmas
No